最上義光歴史館/<Translator’s Foreword> Saijoki - The Mogami Chronicles -

最上義光歴史館
<Translator’s Foreword> Saijoki - The Mogami Chronicles -
TRANSLATOR’S FOREWORD

  Saijōki (The Mogami Chronicles) is the tale that revolves around the life of Mogami Yoshiaki (1546-1614), a damiyo of the Dewa province (present-day Yamagata prefecture) during the turbulent Sengoku, or ‘Warring States’, period that is defined by some historians as lasting from the mid-15th century to the early 17th century. A beloved figure in the history of the Yamagata region, Yoshiaki is credited for many accomplishments, including contributions to the economic development of the province, the importation of culture from the capital region, the reconstruction of Yamagata Castle, and the creation of a castle town upon which the modern city of Yamagata is based.
  Yoshiaki is also known as an able warrior and skilled general, and it is this aspect of his legacy that Saijōki concerns itself with. Made up of tales of his successes – and the occasional failure – in battle, this work comprises an at times loosely-connected string of the military conquests that allowed Yoshiaki to achieve his dominance over the Dewa province.
  Saijōki was written by a self-described former vassal of the Mogami clan in the early years of the Edo period (1603-1868), after infighting between senior Mogami clan retainers resulted in the forfeiture of the domain under the control of the Mogami family – the fifth largest domain in Japan during Yoshiaki’s lifetime – in 1622. This vassal left the Yamagata region, drifting southwards to the district of Kasai (located within the present-day Tokyo area), and it was there that he set down on paper this history of the Mogami clan.
  These tales should not be seen as accounts that are entirely true to history, but rather as an observer’s recollection of Yoshiaki’s life and times that is indeed based on actual events and true facts, but is also freely punctuated with the embellishments of legend and memory. Since this account does present itself as an actual history of Yoshiaki, however, it is of significant historical value in that it may serve as a valuable illustration of the status the legendary general acquired in the minds of his followers, and may also accurately reflect the stories that were told of Yoshiaki during his lifetime and the period following his death.
  The date given for the writing of Saijōki is 1634, and the original manuscript was written in an older style of Japanese not easily intelligible to the modern reader. To make this document accessible to a wider audience, the Mogami Yoshiaki Historical Museum commissioned the translation of the original manuscript into modern Japanese in 2009. This translation was undertaken by Shigeo Katagiri, a prominent Mogami Yoshiaki researcher as well as the Director of the Kaminoyama Municipal Library and the former Director of the Mogami Yoshiaki Historical Museum. This English version of Saijōki is a full translation of the modern Japanese version that was made while consulting the original manuscript, and I am very grateful to Mr. Katagiri and the Mogami Yoshiaki Historical Museum for their valuable help and advice.
  I would now like to offer a few comments and observations regarding the English translation. Firstly, I would like to note that the title – Saijōki – is a phonetic rendering of the Japanese title, which is the on-yomi (Chinese reading) of the characters “最上記”. The kun-yomi (Japanese reading) of the same three characters would be “Mogami (最上) – ki (記)”, referring to a “Mogami record” or “Mogami chronicle”, as expressed in the English title “The Mogami Chronicles”.
  The names of the persons who appear in Saijōki are given as they appear in the Japanese text. Often a mixture of name and title, these names, especially those of the higher-ranking personages, can be long and cumbersome. A complete list of all the persons appearing in Saijōki can be found at the end of the book, and the simpler and more commonly used designations for some of these personages are noted there. The phonetic readings of these names differ somewhat from age to age: for example, while the name “五兵衛” would have been pronounced Gohyōei in the pre-Edo period, the Edo-period reading for this name was simplified to Gohei. In this English text, the simpler Edo-period readings of names have been used.
  While measurements in the Japanese text appear in the form of traditional units such as ken (1.818 meters), chō (109.09 meters), and shaku (30.3 cm), I have converted these to metric amounts in the English version to allow for easier reading. On the other hand, dates are given in the era name/year number combination used in the Japanese text (for example, Enbun 1 refers to the first year of the Enbun era), while the corresponding year of the western calendar is given as a footnote. Months and days are given in a “1st day of the second month” format that may seem clumsy; however, the old Japanese calendar does not exactly correspond to the modern calendar, and the “4th day of the eighth month” would not fall on August 4 of the Gregorian calendar. It is hoped that this manner of notation will help the reader to keep this discrepancy in mind.
  Returning to the subject matter, it is interesting to note that while there was no single family that exerted a greater influence over the history of the Yamagata region than the Mogami clan, and no other Mogami lord who achieved the legendary status of Yoshiaki, the history contained within Saijōki (and a few differently named but almost identical versions that are clearly based on the Saijōki manuscript) remains the only definitive record of Yoshiaki’s life and achievements. The accounts of Yoshiaki’s military campaigns illustrate the tumultuous nature of the Sengoku period, and the tales are imbued with the strong warrior ethos that characterizes the samurai of this period. The time of Yoshiaki represents the zenith of the Mogami dominion over the Yamagata area, for the Edo period, which began shortly before Yoshiaki’s death, ushered in a time of peace that saw a lessening of the military role of the samurai as well as the precipitous decline of the Mogami clan. However, it is thanks to the anonymous author of Saijōki that we are still able to enjoy a vivid and personal view of the intersection between the “golden age” of the samurai and the illustrious career of the celebrated Mogami Yoshiaki.

March, 2012
Lisa Somers

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2012/08/02 09:12 (C) 最上義光歴史館